The second book of a series; a locked-door murder mystery. How does it stack up? Are we engrossed? In the words of the author, does it grab you and keep you interested?
Title: Sausalito (A Boston Jones Mystery)
Language: US English
Synopsis: A couples councilor, who did part time work for the FBI, is murdered late at night in her Sausalito, California, office. Sausalito’s only police detective, Dan Evans, is awaken the morning of the murder and starts the process of investigating the murder of someone he knows.
The body, slumped in an office chair behind an impressive desk, reminded the killer of an old song. Something about a shot through the heart…giving love a bad name described this bitch. Lariat Evans had pretended to be a caring ‘couples counselor’ when in reality she’d encouraged more people to separate than stay together. Destroying relationships wasn’t enough for the doctor, she ruined lives in her spare time as a consultant to the FBI. Her Psych evaluations of ordinary businessmen put more innocent people in prison than any federal judge.
Death hadn’t disturbed the compulsive neatness of her office. Lariat would be pleased. She often said an orderly environment represented an orderly mind. The wound was small, a tiny hole right between her breasts. For all the misery she’d caused, her victims would think she got off too easy. The killer considered a knife but that would have taken too long. Same with strangling. Putting away the desire for a painful revenge, they decided one bullet strategically placed to cause certain death was the quickest way to get the job done.
The killer wanted to remain a while longer, but it was late, and though the gun had a silencer there was no way to know if anyone had overheard—or if a well-meaning colleague might not see the light from the street below and come up to investigate. Reluctantly, they unscrewed the silencer, pocketed it and the gun, then turned off the light.
Smiling, the killer exited the building, confident the Sausalito Police Department would have as much luck discovering who killed the doctor as they would figuring out how a dead woman locked the office door.
Lariat had been dead less than 12 hours when Dan Evans, Sausalito’s only police detective, was shaken awake by the annoying clatter of his land line. Rolling on his side, he reached out to his bedside table and fumbled for the receiver.
Pressing it to his ear, Dan flopped on his back and said, “Edwards here.”
He smiled, it was his dispatcher, Peggy. “Hey, you…”
“Dan, I’m calling from headquarters.” Peggy’s voice sounded strained.
Thinking he’d overslept, Dan reached for the cell phone beside his land line and checked the time. The smile slipped from his face, he wasn’t late to work Peggy was early. “What’s wrong Peggy?”
“There’s been a homicide.”
Dan laughed, other than summer home break ins, Sausalito had a zero violent crime rate. “Yeah, sure. Who got robbed, I’ll go right over there—”
“I’m not joking. Lariat Evans was shot in her office last night. The call just came in and I need you to tell me what to do.”
“Lariat Evans? Are you sure?”
“Dan, please, I got first responders waiting on you.”
Dan swung his feet over the side of the bed. “How many are there?”
“Okay, have two of them seal up the crime scene and ask them to remain there. Put the other two on the front door. Tell them no one without a badge gets in or out. I’ll call San Francisco P.D. and ask for a crime scene unit before I leave here.”
Dan replaced the receiver. Making no effort to move, he processed what he’d just been told. He had to admit, while he was shocked, he was not surprised. Dan knew from firsthand experience that Lariat wasn’t subtle when dealing with the couples she counseled. She didn’t believe in wasting their time and money by encouraging bad relationships. She didn’t gently lead her patients into the realization that they were mismatched. No, she said it plainly, sometimes before they were ready to hear it. It was possible a patient didn’t agree with the dissolution of their relationship and lodged their complaint with a bullet.
Then there was the work she did for the FBI. Recently, her expert testimony put an eighty-year-old mobster faking senility in prison instead of a luxurious retirement home. Dan had to consider that the killer could be a hit man settling the score for the old man.
He also couldn’t rule out domestic homicide. He couldn’t remember if Lariat had been dating anyone, but he hadn’t seen her in over a month, so anything was possible.
Dan rubbed his face hard. Patients, mobsters, boyfriends…his first murder case was going to be complicated.
After placing a call to San Francisco, he inspected the clothes he wore Friday. The suit appeared slept in, but with such short notice, it’s all he had. He never worried about his appearance when he was married; Joan made sure he left the house looking his best. But since the divorce he’d let some things slide, like grooming, eating regularly and laundry. On the bright side, the autumn weather gave him an excuse to wear his new gray overcoat and matching fedora.
Dan was able to find clean underwear and a white dress shirt. While he ran an electric shaver over his face, he searched through his sparse collection of ties, picked one without food stains and semi-complimented his suit. He added a tie pin shaped like handcuffs, given to him by his ex-wife when he made detective a year and a half ago.
After clipping his .45 service revolver to his belt, he took a minute to look in the full-length mirror behind the closet door. He brushed back the few strands of gray hair on the crown of his head and put on the fedora. Not bad. He wasn’t exactly dashing; the bags under his eyes said he’d seen better days. The brim pulled low over his brow, gave him a scary, don’t-fuck-with-me look. He smoothed the brush mustache he’d grown right out of the academy to make him look older, thinking it might make him look too old now.
Putting on the overcoat made a dramatic improvement in his appearance. It covered most wrinkles, the dark gray making the white shirt pop. After buttoning his coat and with one more glance in the mirror, he headed out, riding high on the conviction he was going to get the fucker.
Editorial comment: It’s not uncommon for a mystery/crime thriller to start off with the crime, and quite often it’s from an anonymous perspective, describes the commission of the crime, and the rest of the book is spent by the hero solving the mystery. However, normally when describing the crime there is tension, perhaps horror, at least some suspense, even empathy with the victim. What about here?
This particular rendition of the crime is extremely passive. There is little to no tension—the crime has already happened. There’s no empathy with the victim—we’re told that she is an extremely unpleasant character and, because that’s all we’ve got to go on, we can’t make up our own minds—we have to accept it as truth. In fact, there’s a lot of opinion about the victim, expressed from the anonymous killer’s perspective. She was a bitch; she pretended to have skills she didn’t have; she caused heartache and misery among many of the people she failed to serve properly. The problem with this is that we don’t know who the killer is, or whether their opinions are to be trusted, In fact, our instinct is rather not to trust them since, after all, they have just murdered someone. So while we’re told all this opinion about poor old Lariat, we don’t know really whether to believe it or not. We read it, but we withhold judgment. This distances us from the narrative, we don’t want to get involved. It’s almost as if this is a private argument and we’re reluctant eavesdroppers. So, unfortunately, my conclusion is that the first section (of 278 words, or more than a page) is not working at all well.
This is a shame, because buried in all of it is an interesting fact, that the detective investigating the crime will come across an office door that is locked from the inside. That’s great, adds an air of mystery, but we can also find this out from Dan when he gets to the scene. We don’t need to be told this by a faceless narrator/killer.
Let’s skip to the next section. This is much better – it’s written from a personal perspective. There’s dialogue. There are real characters we can get involved with. If we started the book with Lariat had been dead less than 12 hours when Dan Evans, Sausalito’s only police detective, was shaken awake by the annoying clatter of his land line, that’s not a bad opening line.
Look a bit more closely though, and it’s easy to get confused. His name is Dan Evans? So Lariat Evans is related to him, possibly? No, because he then says Edwards here when he answers the phone. Your main character’s name is a big thing to get wrong, unless he’s pretending to be someone he isn’t, in which case I am confused.
Reading further, we have lots of description as he pauses to admire himself in the mirror. I’m afraid this is a bit of an old trick. Well aware that one shouldn’t spend long paragraphs describing what your characters look like, authors come up with devious methods of indulging their assumed need to describe the physical appearance of their main character down to the last few stray gray hairs. Having them look in the mirror and describe their own appearance to themselves is the most common, and most obvious.
I’m afraid I think this needs work on a number of levels. I’m not at all sure about the first section. It does tell us that a crime has been committed, but it certainly doesn’t inspire any tension, or fear, or mystery, or empathy. If it doesn’t do any of these things, why have it in? We learn all the same information from Dan, who thinks essentially the same thoughts as the killer, although possibly slightly less judgmentally. I don’t think an agent would read beyond this section, unfortunately. And then the subsequent section, although much better, needs a lot of tightening up. Describing characters’ appearances in fine detail is one of the bad habits that I encourage writers to lose first. Physical description of a character is just exposition, unless it is also absolutely necessary in describing someone’s nature. Think about it. In real life, do you judge a person by their appearance, or by their actions? If you wanted to describe who a person really is to someone else, how would you do it? Would you say what they were wearing, their hair color, how tall they are, and assume that’s all your interlocutor needed to know?
Food for thought! Thanks for posting.
You might point out to the author it’s couples “counselor” not “councilor”
In the space of a critique I have to concentrate on the major issues. There are a number of copy-editing problems with this submission, but the bigger picture is that I think it needs some substantial revisions before we get to the copy-editing stage. But you’re absolutely right, and I include your comment so that the author may take note. Thanks for that.